Final Reflection for Futures II
Fall 2021|Catherine Wang
At the start of the semester, I believed I had low agency in my future.
On the whiteboard quadrants, I listed myself as a designer who in the future will create short-term products that are form-based. That prediction comes from my own biases of what makes me happy and what I find valuable. I personally do not connect well with grand, social projects that focus on justice, inequality, politics, etc. This is also due to the privilege I have as someone who doesn’t belong to a marginalized group. However, I do appreciate small impacts such as helping local communities or supporting digital and physical subcultures. I believed that I would design experiences that will reach a small portion of people but have a greater impact for each individual. Some projects might be creating publications about niche topics (graphic novels, interesting stories etc.) or helping smaller companies and organizations find their brand identity.
In my personal ranking of usefulness of futures methods, my #1 is Jamais Cascio’s critiques.
Cascio’s critiques are just so concise and hits the bullseye on the underlying concerns with current futuristic fantasies. One of Cascio’s first critiques was that the future was overly technological. As a communications design undergraduate, we are constantly reminded and pushed to learn how to code. It seems to be a skill that is necessary for the 21st century and will magically increase one’s competence and professional status in the workspace. Those of us who genuinely dislike punching numbers in our computers all day desire a future that is both techy and analog, where different practices and methods aren’t scrutinized just because they are rooted in tradition rather than innovation. When I’m designing, I also want to adopt more of Cascio’s critical-ness so that I can point out the failures and underrepresentation in designs that seem too good to be true. Overall, I am glad that this futures course shows us both glorified and critical images of the future so that we can design a practical and positive future rather than an impractical one.
STEEP, the research method that is most heavily mentioned and easily remembered, wasn’t the most helpful.
One would think that seeing the whole picture requires seeing every facet that the picture offers. However, this belief side steps that designers themselves have their own preferences and interests. It is definitely important to consider all aspects of a future that you are designing for. However, once I am somewhat knowledgeable of my futures landscape and is moving on to the actual brainstorming and iterative process, I start to veer away from lenses such as politics or economics because they do not align with my interests. I found myself a lot of times in Futures I and II filling in categories of STEEP not because I found interesting information or research, but because I need to write something down to complete the STEEP chart or table. Also, the categories of “economic” or “political” just aren’t named in an appealing manner compared to other names such as “myths and metaphors” or “social system and structure”. Overall, STEEP would be a good introductory method for those who are familiarizing themselves with futures studies, but I would much prefer a method like CLA analysis that has more in-depth categorizations.
Imagining the future is surprisingly and scarily simple.
Many of our futures projects were completed within 1–2 week, which is a stark contrast with our studio class projects which are sometimes 4 or 6 weeks long. The key was to tell a specific and immersive story through just a few physical and digital interactions. Before this class, I was more used to designing highly refined products that required little learning and guessing on the audience’s part. However, I started to enjoy my futures projects because I was making something that didn’t exist and springing that upon an unexpecting crowd. Simple tools and materials such as Figma, foam core, and Photoshop are all I need to transport others into an unfamiliar but exciting space.
As we did more and more projects, my teams started to become more ambitious and added more interactions to the final product in order for the future experience to feel believable. For example, the first team project the SprayDresser included just an acrylic stand + sign that hinted at a new fashion phenomenon: spray-on clothing. When I worked on the following project Krit, we decided to include a physical booth that people can walk in, experimental audio, and even video projections within the booth. With each team member using their unique skills to contribute to Krit, we created an experience that fulfilled multiple senses: touch, hearing, and vision.
On a more of a tangent, I learned just a couple of days ago about an example of scarily simple future prototyping: Theranos. The simple and marketable idea of using a single drop of blood to complete complex blood tests was an incredible scam in 2015, and that incident has taught me that prototyping can be both plausible but also dangerous. Prototypes should not be mistaken for a functioning product because you will be selling to others a fake future.
After the course, my design future on the temporal and impact spectrums have changed, somewhat.
What has changed: I believe that my future designs will have a bit more social impact than before, because I learned that form-based designs have inherent social impact and that whatever you make can ultimately uplift people’s lives and bring them benefits that are more intangible, whether that’s education, better mental health etc. I also believe that I want to design things that are both long term and short term. I do want to create designs that last a long time. However, that idea seems to give me immeasurable pressure to create something that’s perfectly timeless and perfectly inclusive. I quite enjoyed the short project timeframes, so I want to continue with smaller projects that lead up to a few major projects during my time as a designer.
Thank you for reading this reflection and thank you to my Futures professors and TAs for an interesting and thought-provoking semester.